Farm Life Blog

Farm Life

Four years in Wisconsin

11.26.18

Last Wednesday marked the beginning of our fourth year of living in Wisconsin. (revisit year one here)  We are still just as much, if not more, in love with Wisconsin, our farm and all of the fabulous people we’ve met. I figured this anniversary would be a great time for us to get caught up on what’s going on around these parts. 

When we last left off, we were just kicking off our second season selling at Farmer’s Markets.

This year we doubled the size of our flower growing area and spent more time trying to figure everything out. Having planted a seed in the ground for the first time EVER three years ago, there is still so much to learn. And THAT is why we moved here. We are challenged every single day with learning something new, meeting someone new, or trying something new. It keeps us from becoming stagnant and Anthony and I have both learned that we need things like that in order to stay sane and happy. On to the updates. 

New additions: We recently adopted 3 barn cats. If you are a fan of our Instagram stories, you may have already met them. We found a woman who is part of a foundation that re-homes feral cats. She has them vaccinated, spayed and neutered and does her part to keep the feral cat population down.  We have had them for about a month and are keeping them in our calf barn until they get acclimated and comfortable on our farm. They are very sweet and they actually like humans, and we’ve had fun interacting with some new animals at our place. I’m really chomping at the bit to get more animals here – miniature donkeys, chickens, goats and rabbits are still on my list. But until I can figure out how to add more time to my day or how to balance things better, those animals are going to have to wait.

Dusty
Walter
Foxy Brown

Chicken House: We have gotten some help on a few more things that need to be finished in the chicken house. This project has stalled over and over and over again because Anthony and I cannot agree on anything – from what to do or how to do it. So then, nothing happens. There are now only a handful of things to be completed in order for us to get chickens. We need to put some poles in the ground around the run and attach netting so that it is completely covered. Anthony is in the process of building a shade structure to go inside the run. After those two things are finished, we’ve only got to get some waterers and feeders, put shavings on the ground inside and we should be good to go. I’m going to throw a party when the chicken house is finished. Plus, it’s so nice inside, I think the party can be held in the chicken house itself.

Bees: The bees are packed up and insulated for the season. It was a weird season for our bees – lots of rain, failing queens and the honey flow was quite late. We only got about 95 pounds of honey this year, which is a bit less than what we got last year. We are going to add some additional windbreaks to the sides this year to help with the terrible winds that come from all directions. Three out of the five hives we now have looked like they had bee activity when we wrapped them up. There might have been some shrew activity in the front of a couple of them, and I’m not feeling confident in all of the hives surviving the winter. I traveled a lot this fall, and some of the things that should have been done to the hives didn’t get done.. All we can do now is hope for the best and wait it out. AND learn from our mistakes this year and adjust next year.

Flowers: The flowers were incredible this year. Again, it was a weird year weather-wise – it warmed up early, then cooled down. We went from not having any rain for a month to rain almost every day for six weeks. I had a few flower growing failures and the bug pressure was unbelievable. I’m so afraid of spraying anything – I don’t want to hurt any of the pollinators and bring toxic things to our farm, but I also cannot keep losing everything I’ve invested so much time and money into. It’s not even tolerable to walk out near anything that’s growing on our farm – the corn borer beetles are EVERYWHERE.

Farmer’s Market: We loved everything about participating in both the Boxed and Burlap and Fontana Farmer’s Markets this year. Being a market vendor is no joke – I was harvesting on Mondays and Wednesdays, prepping and arranging everything on Thursdays, selling on Fridays; cutting and arranging more on Friday afternoons if necessary for Saturday’s market. Then selling on Saturdays, cleaning everything up on Sundays and starting over again on Monday. And that was just the flowers – that doesn’t include everything else going on at the farm. We eventually stopped selling in Fontana on Saturday’s so we could get a better handle on things and keep up with everything else. Our end goal is to be able to sell from our farm, instead of taking everything to market. That way we can enjoy our farm while other people come to visit and enjoy it too.

Loretta, enjoying the farm

Cow and heifers: All four of our girls were artificially inseminated in July AND all four of them were settled on the first try – which means we are pretty lucky. Our vet told us that he usually experiences about a 70% success rate, so 100% was a huge win in our books. We had them preg checked about 30 days after insemination just in case some of them did not get pregnant, so we could quickly inseminate again and keep all of them calving around the same time. The vet said he wanted to check all four of them again in about six weeks to make sure that they stayed pregnant. At that point in their pregnancy, ultrasound can be used to check pregnancy and reveal the gender of the calves. This was also exciting for us because then we would know and prepare for which babies would be raised for beef, and which ones would be kept for our herd. Dolly and Patsy are having bull calves, Loretta and June are having heifers. Translation – Dolly and Patsy’s male calves will be raised for beef (and no, they won’t be named) and Loretta and June’s female calves will stay on the farm and join our herd.

Greatest Dog of All Time – or GDOAT: Gigi turned eleven years old in November. She has definitely slowed down a bit, but still has lots of puppy left in her. She is our constant companion in most everything we do here, except when it comes to other animals. She wants to be the only one for us – which translates as the only animal that gets any attention from anyone.

Anthony and I basking in some much-needed lake time with friends

Add in a ton of visitors, Nellie’s Barn Sale, some time out on the lake, watercolor painting, new fencing and random interior design projects and you’ve got our summer and fall all wrapped up.

This winter will not only be a time for us to rest and reflect, but also a time for planning the future of our farm. We are both ready to take the next step in transforming Lucky Break into a destination farm and further defining what that means to us. Our friend Rick has warned us, more than a few times, to dream carefully in the Winter. It’s easy (especially for me) to dream up a multitude of things to take on as soon as the weather breaks in the Spring. I’m going to do my best to be realistic and not turn our farm into some sort of forced labor camp. I can’t wait to see what happens as we work our way up to year number 5.

Farm Life

Summatime

06.23.18

Are you as excited as we are that it’s finally Summer? We are in the thick of it and couldn’t be happier to be back outside all day and all night. We have had a TON of rain, but it hasn’t been terribly downpour-like, so we have been out in it, for the most part. Our gardens, girls and flowers are loving the rain, but we are definitely ready for some sunshine.

No joke, everyone that visits pitches in. Mom had great company while she was planting

COWS: The girls will be artificially inseminated in a few weeks. Not too long ago, our friend Glenn (Patsy and Loretta’s original Dad) came to visit and while we were out in the pasture visiting the girls, we watched June nursing. I was horrified and once again reminded that I’m not the best farmer. We should have kept them separated MUCH longer, but I, once again, humanized them and thought they missed each other and wanted to be back together. Stupid mistake, but now we know and will adjust in the future. In the meantime, Junie is wearing the Quiet Wean again (or as I started calling it, the Ring of Shame) and we will separate them once they are all inseminated.

FLOWERS: Our bulbs and lilacs and peonies have come and gone and now we wait for everything else to grow up and start blooming.

This year we have more than doubled our growing plots and are growing over 70 different kinds of flowers and greenery.

One of our goals with the flowers is to have a Pick-Your-Own flower farm, so right now I’m testing and trying what varieties work best for us, as well as what you guys want to see growing. As stupid as this sounds, I never really accounted for the amount of extra time I would have to devote to growing, planting and now weeding and harvesting double the amount of flowers.

Planting, planting and more planting

I was really only thinking “I NEED MORE FLOWERS” and went a little bit overboard. Our farm is always a work in progress, and this is an area where we are still trying to figure out balance. (Really, it’s my issue, but WE sounds so much better)

The supervisor is always by my side

BEES: We have had a few small challenges this season so far with the bees, but now it looks like everyone is on track, kind of. Two of our hives are slow to grow and look a bit weak and we have had to replace two Queens. Our other two hives are thriving, and everyone has at least one super on top. BUT, the most exciting news thus far was when we captured a swarm a little over a week ago.

Our neighbor Kevin called Anthony and said we might want to come and get our bees that were in his tree. We took a quick look at our hives, and it looked like business as usual – lots of bees flying in and out of them, so we didn’t think it was any of ours. We quickly drove over to take a look. It was HUGE! We ran back home, picked up our suits, a ladder and a big box because we didn’t think it would fit in a nuc box, nor were any of our hive bodies ready to put bees in them.  We called Rick, our mentor, to ask his advice on what we should do, but he didn’t answer.

It was a hilarious site, the two of us. I ran into the office and pulled out two of my beekeeping books and looked up “capturing a swarm”. While Anthony was gathering our supplies, I was following along behind him, reading out loud from Beekeeping for Dummies.

Anthony cut the branch off of the evergreen tree the swarm had landed in and we put the entire branch – Anthony estimated it was 5-10 pounds – in the box. We watched as the bees that had fallen off of the branch flew into the box. We taped everything up and drove them home. We got a hive ready for them and put it out next to our other hives. We then opened up all of our hives just to double-check that they were there and everyone was accounted for. You can imagine how excited we were – free bees???

One of the most interesting things that we read about capturing a swarm is what happens when you try to get it/them into a hive. It was recommended to place a sheet or towel in front of the hive, as a makeshift plank for the bees to walk inside. We did just that and after 2-3 minutes watched in disbelief as they all started marching in, thousands of them, at once. We ended up adding another hive body AND a super for them because the size of the swarm called for it. There were so many, it was the size of at least two of our existing hives combined. The best part was when Anthony told me it felt like he was back in SWAT, going on a call out. This is our life now, and I’m glad he can draw on his SWAT training to swiftly and safely capture a swarm. (please tell me you’re laughing with me right now)

We checked them yesterday and weren’t able to find a Queen nor any brood, but it looks like they are trying to make their own Queen. We will check again soon and if there is no Queen, we may have to add one on our own to keep this hive going. Or, we could split the bees up and add them to our hives that are not thriving.

Anthony made a video compilation of the short videos I posted on Instagram stories. It’s not up to the caliber of Anthony’s feature films, but it somewhat shows the process we went through. Check it out:

CHICKEN HOUSE: In May, my Uncle Walt, Brother and Bestie came up to the farm to put in some serious work on the chicken house. We worked for 4 days straight and got so much accomplished. I’m pretty sure we all thought, at one point or another, it was the most fun we’ve ever had working. We still have work to do, mostly on the run and the outside, but that work has been put on the back burner because we have been concentrating on the flowers and Farmer’s Markets. I’ll break down everything we did and our plans for our chickens in a future post.

Chicken House Crew

EVERYTHING ELSE: Anthony has created a beautiful vegetable garden for us this year. Last year I threw one in, and it was so half-assed and horrible looking. We got beautiful cucumbers, cauliflower and basil, but it was a HOT mess. I really just wanted to start a vegetable garden somehow, some way, so I could learn what to do, what not to do and also to reap the rewards once things actually started growing. My biggest takeaway was that I don’t have time to have a flower farm, cows, bees, a swimming pool AND a garden, so this year I asked Anthony to be in charge of it. He has done an incredible job. It is already producing so much, is always weeded and gets the daily attention it deserves. I’m so glad I tricked him into this task, he is a natural gardener.

Anthony and I are selling at two Farmer’s Markets this year – Friday’s from 8-2 at Boxed and Burlap in Delavan and Saturday’s from 8-12 in Fontana. We love connecting with every single person that visits our booth. It’s fun to share our story and our dreams, and it really seems like people want to know what we are doing and why we ended up in Wisconsin. Also, we had no idea how much we would love meeting the other vendors – Farmer’s Market people are the best kind of people.

Keep Pressing On LLC‘s shirt design for their weekly do-it-yourself silk screen t-shirts

This year is going so much better than last year.  Our swimming pool is not a swamp for the first time since we moved here.  Our new fencing is holding up and the cows haven’t tried to escape. (knock on wood and anything else that can prevent this) Anthony and I are working on the farm full-time, together, and not wanting to kill each other! It’s as if something clicked and we are both on the same page and fully committed to making this hobby farm dream of ours a reality. I’m also trying my best to relax and enjoy things in the midst of all of the work.

There will always be more work than we can handle or ever finish, so I’m really trying to keep some perspective and have fun with it.  Otherwise, what is the point?

Our lovely swamp, when we opened the pool this year
It’s a MIRACLE!!!!!

What are your tricks for slowing down and enjoying the moment amidst all of the work? And what are your summer plans? Any visits to Wisconsin in your near future? (hint, hint)

 

 

 

Farm Life

Wins and Losses

03.25.18

Before you even say it, I KNOW, it’s been forever since I’ve written. It’s been so long that I can’t even come up with a valid excuse like I was in a coma, or my dog ate my homework, or whatever. Anthony and I have been so caught up with regrouping over the winter, reorganizing and getting ready for the upcoming season, that we haven’t been around here much. We do, however, post a LOT on Instagram and Facebook – and we would love for you to follow us there.

Planning next year’s garden

Because of our long absence, I feel a recap is in order. Let’s get to it, shall we?

snowy cows

COWS: When you last heard from us here, it was our 2 year anniversary of being cow owners. Dolly and June (our two calves) are growing up and are now even bigger than Patsy and Loretta when we first got them. A few weeks ago, we started the weaning process. We’ve read that weaning a calf can be the most stressful event in its life, so we tried our best to do it in the gentlest way possible. We first installed these Quiet Wean nose flaps, which is basically just a piece of plastic that clips to their septum. We have conditioned them to stick their heads through stanchions to eat a little bit of corn at night, and that’s so we have a way of handling them for vaccinating, pregnancy check, etc. without owning a chute. It’s actually helped us a lot this year. One night after their corn treats but still in the stanchions, Anthony slipped them on with no drama at all – and that was a nice surprise because we were expecting the worst. The girls continued to eat and drink without any issues.

The girls wearing their nose flaps

What this nose flap does is make it difficult for them to get close enough to nurse, but they still get to be with their Mom’s. The plastic of the nose flap also irritates the Momma when the calf tries to nurse, so Momma pushes them away. They kept these on for a week longer than we originally intended due to some frigid weather, but when we took them off, we separated them by a fence. The babies got to keep the barn and the Momma’s got to keep the big feeder. They can still see each other and can sleep next to each other, separated only by a gate or fence. And again – it’s been drama free and no crying at all.  We keep saying to each other how grateful we are at how smoothly this weaning has gone, so far. Our future plans for the girls are to inseminate them this July, in order for them to calve about a year from now. June probably won’t be ready by then, but we’ll play it by ear and see what happens.

Dolly, future escape artist

FLOWERS: The bulbs have started coming up and I am SO excited to see everything return. When people ask how we have adjusted to the weather here, I have to say that there is nothing like experiencing four seasons, and we love it. It really makes us appreciate every day we can spend outside, and I don’t know if it will ever get old seeing the first Robin of the season. We are doubling the size of our flower farm this year, which means we are still small – only 1/10th of an acre, but I’m working hard this year at not taking on more than I can handle, and I think slow progress is best. At least that’s what Anthony has brainwashed me into thinking. We are planning on being at a few Farmer’s Markets again this year, along with some specialty, one-day markets. More on that to come.

SEEDS!!!!

BEES: This is a tough one. On Monday, we went out to the hives to give them more pollen and sugar and discovered that we have lost all of our hives. Again. We knew going into winter that two of the hives looked a bit weak, but just two weeks ago the other two were going strong. They were flying out on sunny days, and Anthony had already given them some pollen patties and sugar. We now know that one of the hives was destroyed by a pygmy shrew. We saw droppings everywhere inside, and the bees were completely torn apart – there were heads and body parts everywhere. After some online research and talking with our beekeeper’s club, we were able to confirm it. As far as the other hives – we just aren’t sure. Two of them were pretty weak going into winter, so maybe they had some queen issues. OR, when we pulled the honey in August and condensed them back down into a few boxes, there were too many in such a small space and they swarmed and took off at the end of the season. Our third hive was beautiful – full of honey, happy and active two weeks ago, but as of Monday it is dead. Our mentor told us this is happening to everyone and no one knows why. It’s frustrating and sad, and somewhat discouraging. But we’ve already got our new bees for the season, along with some new defensive hardware cloth up in hopes of keeping those terrible shrews out for the rest of spring. It is, as they say, a learning process. And somewhat of a crapshoot.

Bees two weeks ago, happy and sunning themselves on the outside of the hives
You can see droppings in the middle, at the top and bee parts everywhere.
Queen cup
Bee protection aka bee prison

EVERYTHING ELSE: We finally had new fencing installed around the entire property. A HUGE job, but it’s done and hopefully we can avoid any escaping cow drama this year. (fingers crossed)

Fencing – not the cute white stuff, but the sturdy and electrical kind

We’ve been working on updating our website, including our new family portrait that you see at the top of this post. We are also finishing up the e-commerce side of our website right now, so we can *finally* offer everything for sale online, including some cute Lucky Break swag that we have been designing and testing out this winter.

Anthony has been painting again and is working on some beautiful pieces that we will be offering as cards at both our farm markets and online.

We’ve also had time to relax and have fun.

If you haven’t yet seen Anthony’s Olympic sledding video, and are looking for a laugh, check it out below. He’s made a few other short films on our YouTube page; you can see them here.

So that’s what’s been happening here – and there is much more planned for the upcoming season. The chicken coop will finally be finished, we’re toying with the idea of remodeling our old barn into some kind of event space and looking at options for what we can do with the little calf barn as well. Hope you are enjoying Spring as much as we are and we look forward to seeing you this Summer!